Day 48 – Monday, June 11th

Anne Hathaway’s house

The garden

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Halls Croft

His Grave

Michael needed to work again today, so Roy and Diane and I grabbed a train to Stratford-Upon-Avon, about an hour and a half trip. After arriving, we walked through the town to the tourist information area and ended up buying a ticket on a Double Decker tour bus that would go past all of the attractions and allow you to hop on and off as you pleased. The tour guides were all full of information, although some of them contradicted each other, so we are not sure exactly how much is true and how much is conjecture.

My first impression of the town was that many of the houses looked the same…..white plaster with dark wood beams. In many ways, they looked exactly like the house that we are living in!!!!! Every so often you would see a house with a thatched roof. One of these houses had a very ornate design in the thatching that covered the peak of the house. The tour guide told us that this type of thing was the signature of the person doing the work.

Our first stop was at Ann Hathaway’s cottage. This was the childhood home of the woman that Shakespeare was to marry. Apparently it was quite a scandal because she was 26 years old and he was only 18!!!! Our first sight of the cottage were the beautiful gardens, containing flowers, shrubs, herbs and vegetables. The gardener was working the vegetable area and putting up devices to keep the birds out of the plants. The device was a potato with large feathers stuck in it and suspended on a rope. As the wind blew, the feathers would turn like a windmill. Roy jokingly asked the gardener if it would keep deer out and his reply was “that’s a gun”!!!! Some of the prettiest of the vegetables were the artichokes, both green and purple ones. I had never seen them growing before and they were gorgeous.

The roof of the house was made of Thatch and was in the process of being re-thatched. It was interesting to see the new section with the straw colored thatch and the old section where the thatch had turned black over the years. The old side was also covered with bugs and had flies all over it. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to live under one of these!!!! We learned that the reason the people had canopy beds was to keep the bugs from falling into bed (ie….”don’t let the bed bugs bite”).

We also learned the meaning behind the first part of that saying “Goodnight, sleep tight”. The base of the beds were made from rope and as they aged the rope would sag and need to be tightened.

After leaving the cottage, we crossed the street to a local café and had lunch. I tried a Cornish Pasty and was very impressed with it. It is a pastry that contains a mixture of FINELY minced meat, onions and potatoes.

We hopped back on the tour bus and headed for Shakespeare’s Birthplace. You walked through a museum before you actually entered the house and we learned lots of interesting facts. For example, all of Shakespeare’s grandchildren died without producing any heirs, so he has no lasting descendants. Also, he grew to dislike his wife, and in his will he gave her “his second best bed”. The house itself was interesting, with guides in almost every room giving you additional information about the house and times. I especially enjoyed a room dedicated to glove making (Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker). It was amazing to look at the processes that were entailed in making a simple pair of leather gloves.

We got back on the bus and hopped off at the house where Shakespeare’s daughter and her husband (Dr. John Hall) lived. The house was named “Halls Croft”. It was much the same as the other houses, however it included some of Dr. Hall’s famous remedies and contained letters from various patients either describing their symptoms or thanking Dr. Hall for curing them.

Our final destination was the church where Shakespeare and his family were buried. The custom at the time was that people were buried in the ground and then the bones were later dug up and moved into a communal grave. Shakespeare didn’t want this to happen, so he paid the church to allow him to be buried inside the church itself. His grave is right at the front of the church, near the altar. He wrote the following on his toombstone…. “Good friend for Jesus sake forbear, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.”

As the day went on, we realized the number of our sayings that came from this particular time period…..

The opening into the “bread oven” (fireplace) was covered with a piece of Hickory that had been soaked in cold water to keep it from burning……this piece was called a “Stop Gap”.

The bread was sliced horizontally rather than perpendicularly. The top piece was considered as the nicest, thus the term “upper crust”.

The word curfew comes from a French word meaning to “cover the fire”. The curfew bell rang each night around 8pm to remind people to cover the fire so that it would not blaze up during the night and catch the house on fire.

The women were given a time in the afternoon that they could go out and visit with their friends and neighbors. This was called the “gadding time” and we get the term “to gad about” from it.

The remedy for a sore throat was to hold a frog over the open mouth and let the saliva from the frog drop into the persons mouth….thus, a “frog in my throat”.

Finally, Queen Elizabeth the First lost her hair due to the use of Mercury based facial products. The women of society began to shave their head so that they would look like the Queen. The term “High Brow” came from this practice.

We caught our trains back to Oxford and arrived in time to meet Michael at the Black Horse pub for dinner. We all had traditional pub food…..Diane opted for Fish and Chips, Roy had the “Ploughman’s Lunch” which had a selection of cheeses, ham, fruit and bread. Michael had “Toad In The Hole” which is a large yorkshire pudding with sausages and mashed potatoes inside, with the whole thing covered with brown onion gravy. I had “Steak and Ale Pie” which was a great mixture of pieces of meat and vegetables served in a flaky crust. It was served with broccoli, carrots and, of course, chips.

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